While extolling the many virtues of Human Nature last week, I speculated that we might be celebrating the arrival of the best Doctor Who story since the series returned if Part Two, The Family Of Blood, was of similar quality. So. Was it? Let's discuss.
Firstly, how the story panned out . . .
John Smith, the human manifestation of The Doctor hiding in a village in Edwardian England, and Martha are being pursued by the malevolent Family Of Blood, a murderous race who want the essence of a Time Lord to extend their lives.
Martha is desperately trying to convince a confused Smith that the time-and-space-travelling adventurer of his subconscious, The Doctor, is his true form, and she needs him to return to defeat The Family - but she needs to find the stolen fob watch which contains his life patterns.
The boy who stole the watch, Tim Latimer, brings it to them in a deserted house, and even Smith's girlfriend, the matron, Joan, believes Martha to be speaking the truth. Smith is faced with the personal dilemma of opening the watch, in the knowledge that he would most likely cease to exist. He decides to make that sacrifice, and The Doctor destroys The Family's spaceship and gives them the immortality they crave - in a form that they can never do any harm to anyone else.
The Doctor asks Joan to travel with him in the TARDIS, but she rejects him as a result of his role in the death of many innocent villagers.
Young Latimer, with the power of foresight given to him by the watch, narrowly escapes death in The Great War, and goes on to live a long life. The Doctor and Martha return to Earth to visit him as an old man before continuing their travels.
Now, that rough outline of the second episode perhaps doesn't sound that special - but there was so much more beneath the surface that made this one of the finest written and acted characterisation pieces in any Doctor Who.
There were so many great scenes. Early in the episode, there was Martha battling to hold off The Family on her own with their laser gun. This was a great story for Martha, with more to do in two episodes than some previous companions had to do in two series! Without "The Doctor" for most of it, she was left to effectively take the lead against a more-advanced race, and had to cope with her own feelings of hurt that her beloved Doctor in his human form had fallen for another woman.
Plenty for Freema Agyeman to get her teeth into, and she didn't fail to deliver. If, as rumours have it, her first series is also to her last, that would be a sad loss to the show. I think both actress and character still have much to offer.
Another extraordinary scene was the scarecrow soldiers' attack on the school, defended by armed pupils. The sight of pre-teenage boys firing rifles at their assailants was a chilling reminder that lads of not much older went off to war in real life in that time period and, in fact, still do today all over the world.
From a filming perspective, it was one of many superbly-realised action scenes overseen by director Charles Palmer, who has made a big impression this season, and we'll hopefully see more of his work in Series 4. It rather reminded me of a brutal scene in the first episode of Genesis Of The Daleks, which saw men in gasmasks being gunned down in a trench, and made a vivid impression on this young man of eight or nine in 1975.
Curiously, although the scarecrows were made of straw, seeing their innards splatter out as they were shot was surprisingly effective. It sounds like a funny scene, though was anything but, and the excellent direction and lighting was a large contributory factor here.
The scary scarecrows themselves worked marvellously well throughout the two parts. From Ailsa Berk's clever "lolloping" choreography to the malevolent tilting of the head to the actual design, they were a triumph. The production team could have got them very wrong, but they were very right.
Also "very right" was John Smith being given a foretaste (via the watch) of what his human life could be like - through marriage and children until death. This was the life The Doctor can never have (and, deep down, doesn't really want as "he could have changed back"). Making David Tennant up as an old man was another great job from Niall Gorton and his prosthetics team, as it was with Mark Gatiss in The Lazarus Experiment.
The closing scene of The Doctor and Martha returning to Earth to visit the elderly Latimer was touching, but perhaps the finest scene of the episode - and maybe the entire series - was The Doctor meeting Joan after despatching The Family.
This was a significant scene because it clearly showed the arrogant side of The Doctor. Having been partly responsible for the devastation which befell this innocent village upon which he descended, he then assumes Joan will be grateful for the opportunity to travel with him in the TARDIS - and without any mention of poor Martha, who has constantly risked her life to save him. Joan's quiet and dignified dismissal of him with a "you can go now" was an even better put-down than Jackie Tyler's slap of the ninth incarnation.
Superb stuff from Jessica Hynes as Joan - I think she would have made a fascinating short-term companion - and David Tennant was absolutely immense here again, in his dual roles as John Smith and The Doctor. And it was the former which was arguably the more likeable of the two in this episode. The portrayal of Smith's struggle to grasp what was going on and then make the decision to give up his life enabled Tennant to underline the range of his ability.
I'm rather inclined to gloss over rather unconvincing elements of the plot, notably The Family's sudden demise. Having The Doctor "just press buttons" on their spaceship to make it blow up was a slight let down, and you could argue that the whole premise of the story was rather elaborate if The Doctor could just revert to Time Lord status, and had the power to confine The Family to "a life sentence" straight away.
That said, I wouldn't be up all night worrying about things like that when there was so much to enjoy. The idea of "giving those who seek immortality what they wish for" was actually explored at the end of The Five Doctors. It's a rather-chilling prospect, and the little girl trapped in the mirror was another intriguing concept.
There was a nice nod for fans with a snatch of Ring O' Roses (as accompanied a similarly-malevolent little girl from Remembrance Of The Daleks) and a reminder that a fanboy runs this show! And is making a pretty fine job of it . . .
This was the best story of David Tennant's tenure as The Doctor for me, and possibly the finest since Caves Of Androzani. Nine and a half out of 10, and surely even the blinkin' majestic Steven Moffat can't top this little gem next week. Can he?
I find this episode difficult to review. I also find it hard to praise. Ultimately I was disappointed. I have to hand it to those who say that Paul Cornell is overrated. He set up a great first episode, only to disappoint with the conclusion.
To sum up my disappointments, first off I think it wrong and out of character for the Doctor to end the story effectively torturing the Family by dooming them to all to spend eternity trapped and separated from each other. Why not simply let them live out their (short) natural lives? The given solution seems cruel, vindictive and vengeful - surely characteristics we do not associate with the Doctor.
Second, I had hoped we might find out why the schoolboy Tim had premonitions BEFORE he came across the pocket watch. But the episode leaves us none the wiser.
Third, I am not sure we ever found out how the Family tracked the Doctor to a small English village in 1913.
Maybe others will disagree, but I think those three points are fundemental to tying up all the loose ends presented by the excellent "Human Nature" episode last week.
Otherwise the cliffhanger was resolved well, the pace was kept up and while I was disturbed to see John Smith so enthusiastic in his insistance to defend the school with guns, one could argue this was to make the point that he is a different character to the Doctor.
I thought it appropriate that Joan refused the Doctor's invite at the end of the story, and we once again see that the Doctor has in many ways sacrificed a "normal life" for his travels, and that he has a deep effect on some of the people he meets.
I must admit I was almost nervous sitting down to watch this episode. It could surely never live up to last week's 'new series'-conquering triumph - the second installment of two-parters have traditionally been weaker since the show returned; and to be fair, even in the original series it was finding out about the problem in episodes 1 and 2 which was almost always more fun than solving it in 3 and 4.
And true to form, the carefully-nuanced plotting, subtle textures and left-of-centre score of Human Nature gave way to the usual running around, zapping and orchestral bluster in Family Of Blood. It's a shame. It was all very well done of course, but nothing we hadn't already seen in the recent Dalek two-parter, or the cyberman double last year, or in variations on the theme countless other times. It would be lovely if an RTD-era Doctor Who two part adventure could find another way to reach a climax without resorting to running, screaming and shooting for 30 minutes.
However, it was the final act which really left me cold. It wasn't so much the sentimentality that did it for me (though they did appear to be using a spade to heap it on), more the fact that we suddenly seemed to be plunged into Fan Fiction Hell.
I think it was Tom Baker was who said that fans kill the thing they love. I don't know specifically what he was referring to on that occasion, but surely it's a quote which fits perfectly with the unhappy notion of fan fiction. Take Star Wars for example. The reason we all love Star Wars is that it's a simple and enjoyable slice of escapist film-making, a place we can go to escape the drudgery of the real world and spend time with swashbuckling heroes on fantastical adventures. There's just enough texture and background detail to prick the imagination, and there's just enough of a smattering of darkness to keep it this side of lightweight fluff.
And this unfortunately is where the fans come in. They feel compelled to give a name to every background extra, write a novel to explain who they are and how they came to be in a bar on Tattooine, and how their paths cross with Luke and Han again in the future, how they become generals in the rebel alliance and how they die at such-and-such a battle defending some other background extra's life. Suddenly there's absolutely nothing left to the imagination; the fans have ended up killing the thing that brought them to the franchise in the first place. The same goes for the back stories and future adventures of the main characters - it's not enough that the story ends and we are left to imagine their "happily ever after". The fans have to go and write books about it all.
All easy enough to ignore, of course. The real problems come when those in charge start taking notice, when the the convoluted soap operatics and hystrionics of the back story come to drown out the desire to tell a rattling good adventure yarn. Flash forward to me enduring Episode III wondering at which point Star Wars had become the by-word for tortured misery rather than escapist fun, and whether my time might not be better spent sitting on the bus home.
And this is the same complaint I had with the finale of Family Of Blood. The reason we fell in love with Doctor Who as a series and as a character is that he represented the underdog; he was the lovably eccentric alien (with the occasional flash darkness) who would always save the day with a combination of wit, charm, ingenuity and, above all, COMPASSION. That's not to say he was always a pacifist, despite his many protestations to the contrary, but the alien menaces would either be regretfully dispatched by the Doctor or, more often than not, by the heroics of a secondary character emboldened by the Doctor or by the bad guys' own folly tricked into hubris by the Doctor. The Doctor was the little man standing up for the little people, his only weapon a combination of his brains and ingenuity and personlity.
So, since when has he become this all-powerful avenging angel flouting the Geneva Convention like some Old Testament bully?
Since Andrew Cartmel began to inject the convoluted pretensions of fan fiction into the series during the late 1980s. Suddenly it was no longer enough to love Doctor Who for the reason we had always loved Doctor Who; suddenly our foppish but reliable hero was an arch-manipulator from beyond the dawn of time. More grown up, perhaps - but did this new character really speak to us in the same way as he had always done before? No longer the exciting big brother or eccentric uncle you always wished you had, this new Doctor is the school bully all grown up and morally decent but with that glint still remaining in his eye, he's the evangelical copper roughing up criminals in the back of the van for the greater good, he's the Old Testament God telling the little kids they'd better behave otherwise they'd be holding a one-way ticket to hell.
And so, Family Of Blood: meet the dark Doctor of fan fiction pretension; the Doctor who'll arbitrarily condemn middle of the range space thugs to disproportionate hellish eternities (though the fairytale punishments were rather nice in their own right); the Doctor who'll beg some poor baffled traumatised nurse to shack up with him, rather than slip off into the night as he has always done previously... yes, it's character development, and yes I did enjoy it for what it was, but is it still the Doctor Who we fell in love with?
Family of Blood
Well, this conclusion must rank as one of the most missed opportunities ever in the history of Who. Human Nature was probably the best episode so far of new Who (just having the edge - by virtue of such unique storyline - to Dalek, Father's Day, Unquiet Dead, Tooth and Claw, Girl in the Fireplace and Impossible Planet) and promised so much, but unfortunately Family of Blood in general seems to take a wrong turn, or should I say, a lazy one, in what is rapidly becoming the new Who two-parter tradition (and horribly reminiscent of the various let downs of Season 22). Not to say that Family of Blood is a bad episode, far from it, in new Who terms it is still a high-ranking slice, and in places it still reflects glimmers of its opener's poetry ('he's fire and ice... he's... like the night' - nice but actually a bit lame in true poetical terms and ironically not a patch on an immortal line about the Doctor from the otherwise deplorable romp Meglos in Season 18: 'he takes the strands of the universe and binds them back together' (sic)).
The sad fact is that the very kernel of this unique story in the history of Who is also its downfall: what in Human Nature starts out as an almost profound and deeply enriching take on 'what if the Doctor was suddenly a human, what would he be like etc.', in Family of Blood egenerates into a cod-Messianic take on the Timelord ('he's ancient and forever...' - no he isn't, he only has 12 lives!), which echoes back to the 'God in the police box' of Season 26 and to the literally messianic post-regeneration prostration of the Eight Doctor ('Who am I?'), but goes even more overboard than before. The flash forward of the Doctor marrying Redfurn, having kids and then dying of old age as a human is of course a direct copy of Last Temptation of Christ - it is quite moving in a way but again is possibly taking things a bit too far when one considers the nature of the film it is copying. As soon as one start supposing the Doctor to be some sort of 'lonely God' or even Messiah, the whole history of the series is in danger of losing its real substance in that this implies the Timelord is omnipotent and invulnerable and not the character of old who had to use his wits and intelligence to solve various dilemmas. Whereas in classic Who the Doctor was more equatable with Sherlock Holmes in space (a celebate genius - juxtaposed quite literally in Talons of Weng-Chiang), the clumsier new Who goes the full hog and practically equates him with a Christ-like figure.
This hint at ominpotence is only further cemented in the almost absurdly poetic/arthouse-esque conclusion in which the Doctor quite callously traps the family of blood in inert immortality (the girl is apparently that thing in the corner of the eye when we look in a mirror and the boy has been more fittingly imprisoned as a scarecrow - the latter was a nice touch, a potent and crucificial motif, but again a rather ruthless curse by the Doctor). This smacks of the fate of Borusa in The Five Doctors, frozen forever immortal as a face on the base of Rassilon's tomb. If we always wondered who the third of the Rassilon-Omega triad was, it seems we're looking at him every week, apparently.
Flawed poeticism aside, my other criticisms of Family of Blood are as follows:
a) the complete failure to develop the character of Latimer, who we find out in the end is nothing more than an Earth child with precognitive abilities, who just happens to be the one who eventually finds the Doctor's watch, which in turn enables him to see into the future, which he could do anyway - therefore a red herring of a character
b) the mawkishly sentimental and ridiculous scenes of Latimer, still visibly too young to be in combat, managing to avoid a shell thanks to his insights of the future from the Doctor's watch - ok, wonderful, so of course there weren't any other shells or bullets to strike him down in No-Man's-Land, only that particular one!
c) the very Schindler's List -esque overkill of the last scene at the war memorial
d) the complete lack of development or explanation about who exactly the family of blood are, what they really look like etc. - the glib description of them 'living only three months, like mayflies' thus needing the Doctor's regenerations to cheat death was again poetically put, but more insight into their true nature and form would have been nice
e) why in the first place did the Doctor decide to change himself into a human for fear of being detected by the family when he hasn't done this before in same circumstances, and also when he was only going to change back and defeat them in the end anyway? Ok, so we're told that it was his compassion to avoid defeating them that led him to do this - that's fair enough - but then it doesn't hold up considering people are killed in the process. On the surface it seems it's just a convenient plot device to explore him as a human.
f) the ludicrous and unexplained process of changing his entire biology with some unsubstantiated 'device' - had it been a 'cloaking device' - a true parallel to the chameleon device of the TARDIS - to simply disguise him as human, it would have sounded more plausible, but to actually physically transform into one - come on! The Timelord part of him (his bio-data extract?) put into a little watch!? Yes, but how? This all smacks of hocum and magic symbolism.
g) the performances of the family are a mix of menacing and hammy - but in this episode, more the latter, especially with the leader's increasingly over-zealous articulations - and the ray guns are clumsy and unsubtle and undermine any real menace
h) the absolutely inappropriate and tedious lapses of Martha regarding her apparently 'loving to bits' the Doctor - whom she hasn't known that long anyway; we have a companion simply filling the shoes of the previous, offering nothing new in terms of personality or perspective, but who is unfortunately far less of an actress than her predecessor, so seemingly has nothing to offer but just air-sprayed looks and doe eyes
i) why does the Doctor have talk and act like a flippant, trendy nerd in order to emphasize the contrast between the real him and the frankly more preferable and interesting John Smith? With a flick of those Jarvis Cocker glasses and he's back!
j) why on Earth did the Doctor offer to take Redfurn with him? What's all this about? What did he mean by saying 'all those things he was I am'? Was this an offer of marriage? Surely this undermined the whole storyline of the Doctor only being suitable for such a union in human form?
The good aspects to this episode: the battle against the scarecrows was very well choreographed, and was a very nice juxtaposition to the oncoming war, the scarecrows falling down instantly at the bullets, a powerful motif for the futility of the oncoming conflict, in which the soldiers may as well be just stuffed of straw for all their chances against the enemy guns. These scenes were very effective indeed and the highpoint of the episode.
As I said, the poeticism of some lines and moments were well done, if a little over-done; the shot of the Doctor dying of old age in his present incarnation was fairly profound; the acting of Redfurn was exceptional in the parting scene with the Doctor; Tennant's acting as John Smith when hearing the truth of his true nature was also exceptional, though a little bizarre to see the Doctor bursting into tears (though I suppose Eccleston was often near to it, especially in Dalek, and didn't even have humanisation to answer for that).
I've never read Human Nature (nor any of the new adventures), but I'm assuming some bits were hacked out of this story for televisation, as the fans have always railed about how good it was. On the basis of this dissapointing conclusion, I'm not entirely sure why. I suppose the premise, and certainly the first half of the story, might be the reason for this. Human Nature was and remains a classic episode - but I am very dissapointed that Family of Blood proved an unworthy successor. It is still a very good episode in places, but it just doesn't fulfill the huge promise of the opener, due to a lapse into sentiment and mawkishness which isn't quite rescued by its better, more resonant and poetic aspects.
Next time, why not adapt Lungbarrow? Now that really could make a classic, and surely now Human Nature has paved the way for an even more penetrating look at the Doctor's true nature and background?
Family of Blood: a disappointing 6.8/10, considering the near perfection of its first part.
'We are the Dead. Short days ago We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow, Loved, and were loved, and now we lie In Flanders fields.'
-- John McCrae
It's really quite difficult to sum this episode up without laying on the superlatives. As with the first part of this story, 'Family' is beautifully written, acted and shot with meticulous period detail and again comes with a fantastic score from Murray Gold. It is a fine piece of television whether it is 'Doctor Who' or not.
The writer, Paul Cornell, should be applauded for his very dark and complex discussion of the Doctor's essential nature and character and one that questions his moral choices, his singular raison d'etre and his humanity. Whilst doing this, the episode also seeks to deal with sin and redemption, masculinity and madness that connects us to Bunyan's 'Pilgrim's Progress', Elliot's 'The Waste Land', Scorsese's 'Last Temptation Of Christ' and some of the themes in Pat Barker's 'Regeneration'.
The engine that keeps this lot moving along and prevents it all from becoming overly sentimental is David Tennant. These two episodes have allowed us to see a version of the Doctor that has, temporarily at least, stripped away the Time Lord's god-like powers. He has become John Smith, the everyman schoolteacher whose encounter with aliens is richly symbolic of the dilemma many men were faced with at the outbreak of war in 1914. He's seen what violence can do and he recognises that he's preparing children for a conflict they can never hope to survive. Realising this, he is the only one who doesn't fire in that encounter with the scarecrows as the boys wipe away their tears of terror and fear. John Smith is the human the Doctor aspires to be.
But Cornell's John Smith is faced with a choice between suicide or the subjugation of the Earth and countless other worlds by the Family. Tennant stunningly and completely captures the poor man's fear, exasperation and denial as he wrestles with his conscience. And knowing he must make this choice, he joins the sleep of the dead both physically and spiritually as played out in the trenches and the epilogue's Remembrance service.
Hammering this home is the final encounter between Joan and the restored Doctor. The Doctor is so 'alien' here in thinking he can simply carry on where Smith left off in the relationship. Joan can read him like a book, like the very journal she weeps over in the conclusion. She understands the dark nature of the Doctor and throws it back in his face. The allusion is to the sexual wounding of the Fisher King in Arthurian legend and the sympathetic sterility of his lands that is caused. Wherever the Doctor goes, as the lonely God he is, death follows, lives are shattered. She knows that the Doctor can never have what John Smith would have had with her and she rejects him, denies him as Peter denied Christ in the garden of Gethsemane.
Jessica Hynes and Tennant are quite amazing in those scenes, adding a heart tugging depth to the dilemma. And I loved Joan's questioning of Martha's role in the Doctor's life. Freema was again on great form and she captured that 'Martha's had the rug pulled our from under her' moment with great skill. How can you sum up what being with the Doctor is like when he's become this totally deniable alien figure to Joan?
Cornell's brave questioning of the true purpose of the Doctor; his capacity for cold revenge whilst also setting in motion the long game of Tim Latimer's survival is at the heart of the episode too. He's a mass of contradictions, at once horribly, cruelly dangerous and then quietly saving Latimer's life and remembering that generation's sacrifice in the trenches. Where the poppy is symbolic of the sleep of forgetfulness, then perhaps the Doctor is seeking the salve for his literal interpretation of the Family's desire for longevity and the death of John Smith.
And also at the centre of the narrative is time itself with the various flash forwards from the possession of that watch. The watch narrates both human time, as in Smith's vision of marriage, birth and death and Latimer's fate, and divine time where we have the summation of Time Lord experience and the visions of destruction and evil. Both the finite and the infinite described by that one object. Time is seen as 'the watchful deadly foe, the enemy that gnaws at our hearts' to paraphrase Baudelaire. Certainly, time comes full circle for the Family as they all end up suspended in their own personal and endless hell. It is also ironic that Son Of Mine is reduced to becoming one of his own scarecrow soldiers.
Praise must also go to Harry Lloyd as the serpentine Baines/Son Of Mine and Rebekah Staten as the equally repellent Mother Of Mine both of whom brought such a vivid wickedness to the presentation of the Family. And once again Thomas Sangster was great as Latimer, a proto-Doctor figure if ever there was one.
A sublime achievement from director Charles Palmer too, despite the pacing being slightly off for the opening ten minutes, and who evoked the bittersweet nature of sacrifice and redemption to which Latimer and Smith were irrevocably married. His use of slow motion and cross fades added a further visual dimension to an already lovely looking episode.
As predicted, "The Family of Blood" turned out to be one of the best episodes of Doctor Who ever. Period, as they say stateside. Last week's episode flawlessly set the stage -- Paul Cornell masterfully condensed the bulk of his acclaimed novel into one astonishing forty-five minute script. Naturally, all of the superfluous plot elements were excised: the fake Doctor; the suffragette; Alexander; even the Doctor's very motive for becoming human. But we were certainly given a lot more in exchange: Scarecrows; Gallifreyan fob watches; the Family of Blood. And this week, the last hundred pages or so of Cornell's novel are brought to life explosively along with so much more?
"God you're rubbish as a human. Come on!"
This episode is the perfect response to the Freema Agyeman-bashing media. "The Family of Blood" is without doubt her strongest outing to date, both in terms of Freema's performance and also in how her character really shows her mettle. The resolution to the cliff-hanger says it all -- Martha holds the Family at gunpoint allowing Joan, Smith and all the other villagers at the Dance to escape. And what thanks does she get?
This situation is so hard on Martha for so many reasons. In the novel, Benny certainly had no love lost for Smith's lover. Joan came across as stuck-up, pompous and patronising in the scenes that they shared. For Benny though, it was a little bit easier for her to just grit her teeth and get on with the job in hand as for one thing, she wasn't seething with jealously over the Smith / Joan relationship, and for another, Joan's bigotry didn't cut quite as deeply with her as it does here with Martha for obvious reasons. But to her credit, Martha shows what she is made of; the Doctor trusted her with his life and she does not let him down, no matter how dejected she feels.
"Women might train to be Doctors,
but hardly a skivvy and hardly one of your colour."
What I really like about how Cornell uses Martha here is that she does not hit back in a predictable way. Had Ace, for example, been treated in the way that Martha is in this story then she would have busted some heads. Martha, on the other hand, keeps her cool. She knows that Joan is not a bad woman -- the racist slurs that she makes do not come from the heart; she has just had certain views drummed into her since birth and Martha knows this. And so when she is insulted and belittled, how does she respond? She names every bone in the hand and forearm. She shuts Joan up with her expert medical knowledge. She proves that she is telling the truth.
"Super, super fun!"
Another standout performer here, as in the first episode, is Harry Lloyd. All the Family are very impressive on screen, but Baines is something else. Last week we were treated to a few fleeting glimpses of his deliciously mischievous, over-the-top, almost playful brand of evil but this week he really lets rip. He is loving every second of the hunt; every moment of the chase. He takes great delight in every death; in every humiliation. The way he bates the Headmaster is absolutely brilliant. His mockery is as grotesque as it is chilling.
"Do you think they will thank the man who taught them it [war] was glorious?"
I have to admit though, the Headmaster is so disagreeable that I was rooting for Baines to vaporise him! When he does eventually meet his doom at the hands of Daughter of Mine it is almost gratifying. Perhaps it is his arrogance or his pig-headed refusal to look facts in the face that make him so utterly loathsome. Perhaps it is that he seems to encapsulate everything that feels so wrong about the time period and the school -- it is men like this Headmaster that keep boys like Timothy down and encourage boys like Hutchinson and Baines to be aggressive, cruel and ruthless. It is also men like the Headmaster that make young boys fight with machine guns.
As do men like John Smith.
Young boys weeping and panicking as they are forced to discharge firearms in a battle situation is one of those haunting images that stuck in my mind for a long time after I first read the "Human Nature" novel. On screen it is even more of a disturbing picture. This is as nothing though when compared to seeing the man who should be the Doctor holding a rifle, armed and ready to fire. Charles Palmer directs this battle sequence skilfully, particularly in how he singles out David Tennant for those profile shots, aiming the weapon straight at the camera. It really hammers home the gulf between John Smith and the Doctor.
"I'm John Smith, that's all I want to be!
With him? his life and his job and his love?
why can't I be John Smith?"
And then, as a slightly corrupted version of the 'Face of Boe' music plays, the real tragedy of the story unfurls. The Doctor hadn't even considered the possibility that his human self might fall in love. More importantly, he hadn't considered the possibility that his human self might not want to relinquish his existence.
SMITH: You're the Doctor's companion, why can't you help? What do you do for him exactly? Why does he need you?
MARTHA: Because he's lonely.
SMITH: And that's what you want me to become?
My favourite scene in the whole two-parter takes place in the Cartwright's cottage. In my opinion it is one of the greatest scenes ever in Doctor Who; it simply says it all. It is the point where it all stops being implied.
The human Doctor, terrified.
His loyal companion, smitten.
His lover, enamoured.
The young boy with the extra engram, enchanted.
"Because I've seen him and he's like fire and ice and rage.
He's like the night and the storm in the heart of the sun.
He's ancient and forever.
He burns at the centre of time and he can see the turn of the universe.
And he's wonderful."
Tim's description of the Doctor is sheer poetry. I've never - not even in the novel - heard him described quite so succinctly and flagrantly. In a single paragraph Tim sums up what the Doctor is all about and why he is so fantastic, and then in one line John Smith says exactly what he lacks: "He won't love you."
Quite frankly I was surprised -- pleasantly surprised! -- at just how far Cornell was allowed to push the envelope in this scene. As the fob watch shows Smith and Joan vivid visions of their possible future -- marriage; children; deathbed etc. -- the viewer is reminded more than ever that the Doctor could never have that sort of life. In the gut-wrenching 2005 episode "Father's Day", also penned by Cornell, Christopher Eccleston's ninth Doctor regretfully states that he has never had a life like that. And much more memorably, as the tenth Doctor says a tearful goodbye to Rose on the beach in "Doomsday" he says, again regretfully, that she is embarking on the one adventure that he can never have. "The Family of Blood" makes that adventure explicit. We see what might have been. Everything that John Smith has to lose.
Everything that the Doctor can never be.
"The Time Lord has such adventures, but he could never have a life like that."
Last week I got into a bit of a heated debate with my Dad about the Doctor and women. He's firmly against the Doctor having 'a girl in every Fireplace', instead believing that the show should just be about the Doctor and his companion going off and having adventures in time and space. What I couldn't make him understand is that the above is exactly what we have! The Doctor and his companion going off and having adventures in time and space. Stories like "Human Nature" only emphasise the harsh reality that nothing traditionally romantic could ever happen between the Doctor and his companion no matter how strongly he feels about them, just as poor Martha is learning over the course of this series. The Doctor has no concept of monogamy. Of sex. Of love, per se. Not on such a 'small' scale. He certainly loved Rose, just as he loved Sarah Jane and all the others. But not in the conventional human way. It's easily forgotten that the Doctor is an alien, but this two-parter serves as a poignant reminder of just how alien the Doctor is. Perhaps Rob Shearman hit the nail on the head in "Scherzo" when he likened the Doctor's companions to pets. Now I love my cat, and I'd certainly be gutted if she got stranded in a parallel universe, but still?
"He never raised his voice. That was the worst thing.
The fury of the Time Lord. And then we discovered why:
why this Doctor, who had fought with gods and demons,
why he'd run away from us and hidden. He was being kind."
The emergence of the Doctor at the end of the episode is oh so quick and oh so brilliant. He defeats the Family of Blood with ease and then sentences them to fates worse than death. Episode 9 of Series 2 ("The Satan Pit") ended with the Doctor proclaiming himself to be the stuff of legend. Episode 9 of Series 3 ends with the Doctor proving himself to be the stuff of legend. The cold and brutal Doctor that we see chain Father of Mine in unbreakable bonds; that we see cast Mother of Mine into the event horizon of a collapsing galaxy; that we see trap Daughter of Mine in a mirror -- in every mirror -- is Time's Champion of the New Adventures. He's an alien. He's a legend.
And he's a million billion light years away from John Smith.
And as for Baines, his calm voiceover describing the plight of his family seems to reveal a begrudging respect for the entity that thwarted his plans so utterly. Like some begotten creature of myth, Baines is resigned to his perpetual fate.
"As for me, I was suspended in time
and the Doctor put me to work standing
over the fields of England, as their protector.
We wanted to live forever, so the Doctor made sure that we did."
But it doesn't end there. With the alien menace defeated, the story turns back to more personal matters. In what David Tennant describes as his favourite scene, the Doctor pays Joan one last visit with the intention of sweeping her off her feet and showing her the stars, but all she wants is for him to change back into John Smith. And he can. But he won't. And she hates him for it.
"John is dead, and you look like him? If the Doctor had never visited us?
on a whim? would anybody have died?"
The Doctor leaves Joan a broken woman and she too leaves her mark on him. Because whether he admits it or not, on some level that Doctor has tasted this life that he can never have, and part of him wants it - the part of him that was tempted by the Master's trap in "Circular Time". And worse, she leaves another painful mark on him because he knows that she's right, morally speaking. Wherever he goes death and destruction inevitably follow, and there is nothing that he can do about it.
"He took my hands, and he kissed my forehead?
He turned back once and looked around.
And somehow he found where all of us were looking at him.
And then he started to run. With determination. Without a hint of reluctance.
Because he still had things to do?
He had a whole other self that he had to be to do that."
By the time the TARDIS dematerialised I'd already passed my usual limit of one single manly tear shed per tear-jerker, and so when the Doctor's voiceover led us into the Great War and then into a remembrance ceremony it was a bit too much to take. The scene of Latimer saving Hutchinson's life, all thanks to the Doctor's pocket watch, is a wonderful coda to the story. And, even though Hutchinson is so thoroughly unpleasant, there is something uplifting about his life being saved by the boy that he used to bully. For some reason I half expected Rolf Harris to start singing Two Little Boys, though. Thankfully Murray Gold scored the moment much more appropriately.
The final moments of the episode at the Cenotaph are equally powerful, if not more so. Old Tim, clutching his medals and sat in his wheelchair, looks up to see the Doctor and Martha -- neither of them a day older -- wearing their poppies and paying their respects. It says so much about the life that the Doctor leads and the effect that he has on people. He may bring death and destruction in his wake but, more often than not, he also brings hope.
In my review last week I ripped off the old quote 'stories are never finished, they are abandoned', but not "Human Nature". Terrifying, mesmerising and perfect, I think that Cornell has now finished what I'm sure will be considered the definitive version of his Doctor Who masterpiece. This is a fan-pleaser that will live on not only as one of the best new series stories but as one of the best Doctor Who stories ever. I'd also be surprised if it didn't get a BAFTA. It has everything that anyone could ever want from a Saturday Night prime time family drama and even more importantly, it re-affirms exactly what it means to be the Doctor.